BROSSARD, Que. — Forward Alexander Semin is at the crossroads of his professional hockey career.
All it took was 168 days for Semin to wear out his welcome with the Montreal Canadiens, as the team placed him on waivers Monday.
On Tuesday, every other team in the NHL passed on the opportunity to pick him up before the Canadiens assigned him to their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps.
Should Semin report to the IceCaps, $950,000 of his $1.1 million salary will come off Montreal’s cap.
But Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reported Tuesday morning that the likelihood of Semin reporting to St. John’s is negligible, noting that his agent is currently looking for European suitors (preferably ones from the KHL) willing to pay for his services.
On the day he signed with Montreal, Semin told reporters he was too young to consider Russia and that his family preferred to remain in North America. That choice must now be revisited.
How does it work if he opts for Europe?
If Semin refuses to report to St. John’s, the Canadiens can place him on unconditional waivers before both parties mutually agree to terminate his contract. Once the NHL approves of that transaction, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and his entire salary will come off Montreal’s cap.
This exact scenario played out with the Minnesota Wild and forward Petr Sykora, who refused to report to their AHL affiliate in Houston before jumping to the Plzen Hockey Club in the Czech Republic, in January of 2010.
If Semin chooses to accept his assignment in the AHL?
“It’s about performance,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien Tuesday. “He needs to go back there and work on different things and bring his game to a better level of [acceptability] that we believe he needs to play in the NHL.”
But if you think Semin’s coming back to play for the Canadiens, you’re dreaming.
A few moments after describing Semin’s path back to the NHL, Therrien was talking about how the decision to sign him bought time for the organization’s young players to develop at the AHL level. A breath later, Therrien admitted the strong play of those young players — Sven Andrighetto, Christian Thomas and Daniel Carr — helped push Semin to the periphery.
Behind them, players like Charles Hudon and Mike McCarron patiently await the opportunity to show their exceptional play in the AHL this year could immediately translate into good hockey with the Canadiens. Currently, with 12 forwards on the active roster, one of those two is expected to be recalled to Montreal Tuesday evening.
No one should be surprised about the development of Semin’s dossier.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin referred to signing him out of the worst season of his NHL career, and a buyout with the Carolina Hurricanes, as a calculated risk. It’s hard to imagine he has any pause about pulling the chord on this experiment now.
Semin’s advanced statistics were impressive. In fact, as of the minute the Canadiens placed him on waivers Monday, he had a 56.2 Corsi For percentage and a 55.8 Fenwick percentage — the best results of his career in those categories.
But he was hired to impress in the basic statistical categories: goals and assists. He had one goal and three assists in 15 games with Montreal, which is a far cry from the pace that saw him score 22 goals and 20 assists in the 2013-14 season (never mind 40 and 44 in 2009-10).
“He was an elite scorer,” said defenceman P.K. Subban. “The sad thing is: If he had the confidence, he definitely has the ability to really be helping our team right now.”
Maybe, but his coach didn’t agree.
“He’s a responsible player with and without the puck,” said Therrien to explain his decision. And when Smith-Pelly couldn’t hold down the position beyond two games, it was Brian Flynn’s turn, and then it was Paul Byron’s.
The Canadiens, who scored three or more goals in 20 of their first 25 games, have only managed two goals in each of their last three games — two of which were losses.
That still wasn’t enough for Therrien to give Semin a crack at it.
“He’s only 31, he’s got some good hockey left in him,” said Subban. “Hopefully things work out for him.”
We’ll see if a European team will take that calculated risk because an AHL assignment could hardly be considered a step in the right direction.